POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Exclusive: Rep. George Santos charged by Justice Department in federal probe

May 9, 2023, 4:55 PM

FILE: U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-NY) walks through the crowd gathered outside the courthouse where former U.S. President Donald Trump will arrive later in the day for his arraignment on April 4, 2023 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

(R-NY)

Originally Published: 09 MAY 23 17:29 ET
Updated: 09 MAY 23 17:58 ET

(CNN) — Federal prosecutors have filed criminal charges against New York Rep. George Santos, the Republican lawmaker whose astonishing pattern of lies and fabrications stunned even hardened politicos, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

Santos is expected to appear as soon as Wednesday at federal court in New York’s eastern district, where the charges have been filed under seal.

The exact nature of the charges couldn’t immediately be learned but the FBI and the Justice Department public integrity prosecutors in New York and Washington have been examining allegations of false statements in Santos’ campaign finance filings and other claims.

The congressman’s attorney declined to comment. Spokespeople for the Brooklyn US Attorney’s Office, the Justice Department and the FBI declined to comment.

The freshman congressman, who was elected last year to represent a district that includes parts of Long Island and Queens, has been under investigation in multiple jurisdictions and by the House Ethics Committee.

Top Democrats, joined by some New York Republicans, have been calling on Santos to resign over allegations ranging from criminal behavior on the campaign trail to petty personal dishonesty stretching back more than a decade.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he will look at the charges before determining if he thinks Santos should be removed from Congress.

“I’ll look at the charges,” the California Republican told CNN on Tuesday.

During his brief time in office, Santos has been accused of breaking campaign finance laws, violating federal conflict of interest laws, stealing cash meant for an Iraq War veteran’s dying dog, masterminding a credit card fraud scheme and lying about where he went to school and worked.

Santos has admitted to making some misleading claims about his education and financial status, but continues to deny the more serious allegations.

During his victorious campaign last year, Santos ran according to the Republican midterm playbook, hammering his Democratic opponent over crime and inflation. The message resonated in the New York suburbs, where GOP candidates flipped four seats on their way to winning a narrow House majority.

But as Santos’ past came under closer scrutiny, with large chunks of his official biography revealed to be conjured from nothing, he increasingly adapted the persona of a right-wing troll.

He played up his support for former President Donald Trump and once claimed that Democrats were “trying to ban toilet paper.”

New York Republicans have sought to distance themselves from Santos, repeatedly urging him to leave office and insisting they knew nothing about his shadowy past. Democrats, meanwhile, are attempting to shake off the embarrassment of not exposing Santos sooner ahead of what promises to be an expensive race to win back his and other neighboring seats in 2024.

The cracks in Santos’ façade first made national headlines in late December 2022, when The New York Times published a long investigation that questioned large chunks of the personal story he sold to voters during the campaign. What followed, though, was often stranger than fiction. A seemingly endless string of new revelations ranging from allegations he stole a dog from an Amish dairy farmer to his own past claims — all false — of playing high-level college volleyball.

As the stories piled up, former friends and associated of Santos began to come forward and share stories claiming he had ripped them off or misled them about his financial and professional situation. A former roommate of the congressman told CNN earlier this year that Santos showed signs of “delusions of grandeur” during their time living together.

“The truth has finally come out,” said Gregory Morey-Parker, who also accused Santos of stealing his scarf. An allegation, like so many others, that Santos denies.

Can remain in Congress

The charges do not, from a legal standpoint, affect Santos’ status as a member of Congress. Nothing in the Constitution’s requirements for congressional office bars individuals under criminal indictment or conviction from serving, except for the 14th Amendment prohibitions for certain treasonous conduct committed after a member has taken the oath of office.

Under the formal rules for the US House of Representatives, according to a Congressional Research Service report, “an indicted Member may continue to participate in congressional proceedings and considerations.”

However, if a member is convicted of a crime that could result in a punishment of two or more years in prison, they are instructed under House rules not to participate in votes on the floor or in committee votes.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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Exclusive: Rep. George Santos charged by Justice Department in federal probe